Curtailing use of ‘official time’ in VA will benefit veterans care

A recent op-ed in The Hill by Jeff Shapiro, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees’ Veterans Affairs Council, (“A true labor-management partnership at the VA,” June 5) criticizes a legislative proposal that would curtail use of “official time,” paid time off for federal employees to perform union business.

Despite reports that thousands of veterans have died waiting for care, Mr. Shapiro says that VA employees performing union business instead of treating veterans is “not detrimental to the public interest.”

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It is hard to imagine how hundreds of VA employees, including doctors and nurses, who spend 100 percent of their time on union business (official time) serves the public interest. Official time is used to negotiate union contracts, lobby Congress and attend union conventions. These activities serve the narrow interests of federal employee unions.

Shapiro goes on to say that official time at the VA is used as a “mechanism for the advancement of veteran care.” But a recent Government Accountability Office report shows that official time is not properly tracked and, for a large part, no one is quite sure how much time VA employees spend on official time, what they are doing, or its cost. 

If official time were so beneficial to the agency and advanced veteran care, then why does NFFE oppose legislation that would require annual accounting of activity occurring on official time? Seemingly, this would be a great resource to the NFFE in which it could highlight the benefits of official time to veterans.

From Trey Kovacs, labor policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute., Washington, D.C.


Criticism of DeVos at education summit off the mark

Arizona State University is dedicated to a mission of inclusion, excellence and societal impact. This includes providing opportunity for a diverse population of qualified students from every ZIP code — and designing the tools that will help them achieve success, both during college and beyond.

In part, this is based on the belief that anyone is capable of learning anything, given the right conditions and support. Contrary to the views of Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins (“Parents should still be concerned about Betsy DeVos,” May 19), this is not intended to control behavior nor a foolish assertion (or, as the authors contend, “poppycock”). It’s based on our recognition of human potential and the role that advances in technology and data gathering — combined with new, individualized approaches to teaching and learning — can play in overcoming gaps in knowledge and providing the support needed to manage challenging classes and stay on track to complete a degree.

Far from the “mechanization” of education, our goal is to continue making advances that recognize the variety of ways humans learn, encourage transdisciplinary thinking to ask new questions and search for new solutions, give students confidence that they can succeed even in subjects they thought were impossible, reduce dropout rates that exacerbate student debt issues and create a diverse, growing population capable of lifelong learning and adapting to a rapidly changing world. As Mr. McGroarty’s own organization acknowledges, “students are not widgets” and they “require individualized learning.” And that’s not poppycock.

From Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz.